2011 was a bit of a stink year all round really. It was, however, also an utterly fascinating one, which means 2012 will be a year the likes this city has never seen, as plans are put into action and the rebuilding gets underway. The biggest event will be the reopening of the CBD, possibly in April. That is not too far away, and I think it will be the catalyst for everything moving forward. It won’t be the same, but I think it won’t be long before it starts to develop some life and character. The city mall Restart project has shown just what can be done with a little space, intelligence, and imagination. Forget the pessimists, I believe we will see some really exciting things happening in different parts of the city as people put ideas, short and long-term, into action.
So what were the transport milestones of 2011? Undoubtedly, the setting up of Central Station was incredibly important to the function of the existing public transport network. It might not look like it yet, but it is probably more important to the city than people realise. I really like it too, it looks good and seems to work well. Most importantly, it is working – the bus system is resembling something along the lines of normality, and patronage is recovering. It will be crucial to the reopening and initial rebuilding of the CBD, and allows a platform from which to begin improving the network.
The introduction of new bus routes has shown that Metro can adapt to the needs of a city whose form and function is currently fluid, and will likely change a number of times over the next few years. It is early days yet, and perhaps some might say it is not enough, but the fact is they have made rapid changes in very difficult circumstances, the system has come a long way from where it was (stranded like a beached whale), and patronage is on the rise.
The CCC produced a draft Central City Plan in very quick order. No matter what your ultimate view, it was a bold document and broke new ground. It proposed a very different city, built around the needs of people rather than cars – which had been asked for in the excellent “share an idea” concept. Core transport ideas included more space and safety for pedestrians, a bigger emphasis on public transport (including a rail system) and active transport (improved cycleways), removal of the one-way system and an upgrade of the avenues. A final draft was produced before Christmas, and approved by the Council.
The event that was on the tip of everyone’s tongue though was the proposal for reintroduction of rail. Not seen in the city since 1976 when the last Rangiora commuter train ran, the proposal which came out of the Central City Plan did not propose anything specific, but it did show that the Council want to use the existing heavy rail network and develop new lines to create a rapid transit network. It has not been without controversy (some people still want to develop a car-fans wet-dream) and there are differing views about how it should operate and so on, but it is early days yet. Heavy rail, light rail, tram-trains, or a combination of any of them, it simply doesn’t matter at this stage – rail is now firmly on the agenda, and that has got to be a good thing. A business case is now the next step, and this will allow such debate to be undertaken in a more informed environment.
There is a lot to look forward to in 2012. Will there be much, or any, kickback from the government on the Central City Plan? So far, the government has been cautiously supportive of the direction set by the Council – the PM even seemed to back the rail idea! The rebuilding of the city is an emotional issue, and it has been very clear that many of the core ideas of the Plan have widespread support from the community. The current government got a lot of support from Christchurch in the 2011 election, which was unprecedented for such a red city, so I imagine they will be playing their hand very carefully. That may just mean support for projects like rail may be forthcoming, but it is by no means guaranteed from this road/sprawl-loving government.
The rail business case will get underway during 2012. This may mean we get drip-fed further details and some rough concepts, or at least I hope that will be the case. If this happens it will certainly stir up a lot of debate, and get a lot of interesting discussion going. I for one can’t wait, and am just happy to see this finally getting some legs.
We should also see some further progress to improving the bus network during 2012. As the city starts to settle there may be further responses; new routes, further changes to existing routes and so on. We may even start to see some progress in areas that have been on hold. Perhaps implementation of the proposed changes to Northern Star services? Bus priority? Suburban interchanges? Metrocard improvements? One thing is for sure, expect something to happen.
Another key milestone to occur during 2012 will be the reopening of the tramway. Indications are that this will include the mostly built extensions that were supposed to open last year – although how possible that might be remains to be seen. The Central City Plan proposes reevaluating the role of the heritage tramway within the public transport system, so I say get on with it and reduce the fare and allow the metrocard to be used on it. It might be a good way to spur growth in the reopened CBD, and once the extension is opened it will link up a number of the “hubs”. In anycase, it will be a significant milestone.
I can’t forget the roads in all this. First, we have the repairs to damaged roads and bridges which should start to see some significant progress during 2012. Then we have the RoNS. CSM1 will be nearing completion, and we should see further progress on CSM2 and the SH1 four-laning to Rolleston. We should also see further progress on the Western Corridor, including the Memorial Ave flyover, as well as the Northern Motorway extension towards the city. We might even find out further details on the new RoNS for north and south of Christchurch – I am picking they will be the proposed extension of the Northern Motorway to bypass Woodend, and improvements to SH1 through Rolleston (grade separation?) and/or four-laning of SH1 beyond Rolleston.
So 2012 is a year of much promise. I , for one, am looking forward to it, and am pretty confident we will see a lot of amazing things happening over the next 12 months. 2011 can go on the scrap heap. I do wonder what things will look like when Christmas 2012 comes around. Will I be shaking my head in disbelief or will I look back on where we were as I write this and be shocked at what has been achieved. I hope it is the later.
As you can see I am now back from holiday. Hope all who read this blog have had a safe and happy time over the last few weeks.